Adult's making eye contact with an infant synchronizes their brainwaves with one another, according to new research
With the early interaction between a parent and an infant comes a firework of emotional and behavioral exchanges that parents believe is the most enlightening and refreshing experience of all. The interaction could result in increased heart rate and intensified gazes and what most people miss because it's invisible is the synchronization of brain activity! Research shows that staring into your infant's eye helps initiate strong brain waves of what later is hardwired by the child's brain as knowledge and mannerisms.
"Brainwaves reflect the group-level activity of millions of neurons and are involved in information transfer between brain regions" as reported by researchers at the University of Cambridge. Studies have depicted that when two adults engage with one another—through conversations—communication is most effective when their brainwaves are synchronizing.
Researchers at the Baby-LINC Lab at the University of Cambridge carried out a study to explore whether the above statement would hold true when it came to communication with infants as well. They studied to find if infants could synchronize their brainwaves with adults and how eye contact might influence the same. The results of the study were published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The study was carried out by examining brainwave patterns of two batches of infants—17 at first and 19 later—using electroencephalography (EEG) to measure patterns of brain electrical activity via electrodes in a skull cap that they made the infants wear. They then compared the infants' brain activity with the adults when the latter sang nursery rhymes to the infant.
"In the first of two experiments, the infant watched a video of an adult as she sang nursery rhymes. First, the adult—whose brainwave patterns had already been recorded— was looking directly at the infant. Then, she turned her head to avert her gaze, while still singing nursery rhymes. Finally, she turned her head away, but her eyes looked directly back at the infant" as witnessed by the University of Cambridge.
The researchers weren't surprised to find that when the adult's gaze met with the infant's, the infants' brainwaves were a lot more synchronized to the adults'. "Interestingly, the greatest synchronizing effect occurred when the adults' head was turned away but her eyes still looked directly at the infant."
However, in the second experiment, the video was replaced by a real adult standing in person with the infant. The adult was made to either look directly at the infant or with averted gaze while singing nursery rhymes to the infant. The brainwaves were then monitored live to study whether brainwave patterns were being "influenced by the infant's as well as the other way round."
In this case with mutual eye contact, both infants and adults were more synchronized to each other's brain activity. They found the infants searching for the adult's gaze when the adult looked away on purpose while singing the nursery rhymes. The researchers in the University found that "brainwave synchronization isn't just due to seeing a face or finding something interesting, but about sharing an intention to communicate."
To further dwell deeper into the study, the researchers aimed at measuring the infant's intention to communicate by measuring how many "vocalizations" the infants made to the adult. They were delighted to find that the infants made a greater effort to communicate and made a considerably higher number of sounds when the adult made direct eye contact, and the more number of vocalization in return hinted at higher brainwave synchrony with the adult.
Dr Victoria Leong, lead author on the study, said: "When the adult and infant are looking at each other, they are signalling their availability and intention to communicate with each other. We found that both adult and infant brains respond to a gaze signal by becoming more in sync with their partner. This mechanism could prepare parents and babies to communicate, by synchronising when to speak and when to listen, which would also make learning more effective."
Dr Sam Wass, the last author of the study, concluded saying: "We don't know what it is, yet, that causes this synchronous brain activity. We're certainly not claiming to have discovered telepathy! In this study, we were looking at whether infants can synchronize their brains to someone else, just as adults can. And we were also trying to figure out what gives rise to the synchrony.
"Our findings suggested eye gaze and vocalizations may both, somehow, play a role. But the brain synchrony we were observing was at such high time-scales—of three to nine oscillations per second—that we still need to figure out how exactly eye gaze and vocalizations create it."
So next time you decide to sing to your infant, or read them a bedtime story or even talk to them on the dinner table, make sure you take the pain of focusing, looking into their eye, being mindful and giving them all your attention and love.
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